Four top Instagramers in Hong Kong and Macau share their secrets

Hong Kong and Macau is home to vibrant communities of Instagram fans. We asked four about InstaMeets, sharing photos, making friends, where best to shoot and what kit they use

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 June, 2015, 1:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 June, 2015, 7:10pm

Nuno Assis (@nunoassis) joined Instagram in March 2013. Instagram has changed the way Assis, 30, an architect from Portugal who's been living in Macau for six years, travels and experiences the cities he visits. "I went on holiday recently, and picked a city where I knew I would have people from the community showing me around," he says.

Assis joined Instagram after being motivated by his girlfriend, an active user of the social network, and by a long-term interest in photography. His eyes - well trained to capture perspectives and frame buildings - quickly made him popular in the social network.

He entered Instagram's list of suggested users in June 2013, and has since accumulated 185,000 followers. But more than just followers, Instagram has opened doors to unknown places in different world cities.

"To see the city through photography is a creative opportunity. And it's also a motivation to travel," he says. His trips are these days as much about architecture as about the people he met through Instagram. "The community is a strong motivation. Now I rarely travel alone," Assis says.

Gadgets: Samsung S4.

Editing apps: VSCO Cam.

Favourite shooting spots: Areia Preta (Hac Sa Wan) in Macau.

Tips: make contact with other Instagramers to exchange ideas and experiences. And shoot everything you like, regardless of trends


Elaine Li (@lielaine) joined Instagram in December 2011 Hong Kong advertising creative Li, 25, took her first photos when she was 12 with her father's camera. Instagram started being part of her life several years later, while she was finishing her degree in visual communication in Chicago. She first used Instagram as a photography portfolio, but soon it became something bigger - she now has more than 70,000 followers.

"I started posting very artsy geometric photos. People who I didn't know started following me, and I realised there was this whole community out there," she recalls.

Li's first meetings with Instagramers happened in Chicago and San Francisco, where she eventually moved. "There, I met more Instagramers. I was really involved in the community and would go to meet-ups," she says.

In January 2014, she left behind California's fog and breathtaking sunsets, which she used to capture with her smartphone, and returned to Hong Kong's high-rises. The landscapes and the faces around her might have changed, but her involvement in the community didn't cease. "With InstaMeets it's half-half: it's shooting and socialising," she says. "When you are shooting by yourself you might not see or notice something, but other people in the meet-up might see."

Even though she has received several invitations to shoot for international brands and to be on a jury of photography contests, she has no plans to become a professional photographer. "Once it becomes a job the passion part starts to change."

Gadgets: Canon EOS 70D and iPhone 6.

Editing apps: VSCO Cam, Snapseed, Skrwt and Afterlight.

Favourite shooting spot: Kowloon.

Tips: shoot and share what you like

Kelvin Tirta (@kelvintirta) joined Instagram in June 2014. Eighteen-year-old biotechnology student Tirta, originally from Indonesia, had a camera and technical knowledge from photography lessons in high school, but he didn't know what to do with them. "I was not inspired back then," he says.

That changed when he came to study in Hong Kong last September. The new city opened his eyes and he picked up his camera. His first post was of a building in Quarry Bay. "Then I kept posting, and started having fun," he says.

The real fun started when he met the people he used to follow on Instagram. He eventually invited an Instagramer with whom he exchanged comments, "likes" and private messages to meet him face-to-face. That small step took him to a much larger community.

Since then, he has joined two InstaMeets and goes regularly on photo walks with different people. If at first it was the city that led him to shoot again, now he says it's mostly because of the people he met.

Tirta has no doubts that the photo app totally changed his perception of the place he now lives in. "If it were not for Instagram I would not have liked Hong Kong, because university is pretty hard, and I really don't get along with the guys at my university," he says.

He checks Instagram every 10 minutes. Before going to sleep, he might spend an hour browsing through his friends' photos. But now he is no longer concerned about followers or number of likes.

"When I first started, I wanted to get many likes, followers, so I tried to post photos I thought would get more likes, but it didn't work out," he says, laughing. He's realised Instagram is about more than just likes. "It's about how you express yourself and how you show your perspective."

Gadgets: Sony A7 II 35mm and iPhone 6.

Editing apps/software: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and VSCO Cam.

Favourite shooting spots: rooftops, beaches and busy streets.

Tips: shoot everything that interests you. Don't think about likes or followers

Jessamine Barnieh (@jesso) joined Instagram in December 2010. Freelance copywriter Barnieh, 35, was new to Hong Kong when she joined her first photo walk with Instagramers in 2013. The group was known as "InstaYay". "We went to North Point. It was a nice way to explore the city, take photos with a group of other people and be inspired by them," she recalls.

Barnieh, who was born and raised in London, and whose family is originally from the Philippines, already had an account on Instagram. It was only after moving to Hong Kong that she became an active user. "I didn't use Instagram to explore London," she says. "When I moved to Hong Kong, I decided to start a 365 project, where I would take a photo every day of something that I saw."

Capturing images became an essential part of her daily life. For a year, she had a mission: to go out and look for something new each day. Instagram became a sort of visual diary, an online repository of memories. "It was good to explore the city, looking back and reminding myself of what I saw or did. I was also able to show a glimpse of the city where I was living to my friends back home," she says.

Barnieh was part of the first "Instameet HK", organised by a group that emerged after some of the InstaYay founders left Hong Kong. Almost every month, about 50 people - a mix of locals, expats and visitors - meet in a different location to take photos together.

Instagram is Barnieh's way of getting to know people with similar interests. "I was fortunate enough to meet lots of nice people, who then became real friends and who I think I maybe would not have met otherwise."

Editing apps: Snapseed and VSCO Cam. 

Favourite shooting spots: top floor of Hopewell Centre in Wan Chai, Star Ferry and the Avenue of Stars.

Tips: just keep taking photos. Go exploring and have fun with it

For this story and more, see 48 Hours, published on June 18